The Minnesota Wild are getting a glimpse of Swedish goaltender Jesper Wallstedt at the World Juniors. On Monday, their potential franchise goaltender stopped 27 of 30 shots in a 6-3 victory against the Russians, then put on a clinic en route to a 48-save shutout against Slovakia.
Wallstedt’s talent has been on full display through Sweden’s first two games. He is known for his calmness, excellent positioning, and awareness — just a few of his many strengths. On one of the world’s biggest stages, a 19-year-old goaltender usually wouldn’t have the confidence to attempt to score on the Russians’ empty net at the end of the game. But he did. He’s just calm, cool, and collected.
Wallstedt garnered significant attention in the shutout win against Slovakia due to his unbelievable performance. Still, he deflected some of the attention after the game. “It’s always a confidence boost, but I couldn’t do this performance without the team in front of me,” Wallstedt said. “We had a lot of blocked shots, and we put their shots in areas where I often could control the saves, so this performance couldn’t be done without the great team in front of me.”
It says a lot about Wallstedt. He was peppered with scoring chances and 48 shots in the game, yet still gave his team credit despite his performance singlehandedly saving Sweden.
The young goaltender saw his stock fall slightly last spring, which is why he fell all the way to the 20th pick. He wasn’t even the first goalie picked in last year’s draft. But there’s no doubt that he has made his presence known early in the World Juniors, probably making teams second guess their draft decisions.
Wallstedt excelled in the Swedish Hockey League (SHL) as a teenager, one of the toughest leagues in the world. After posting a .908 save percentage and 2.23 goals-against average in 22 games just a year ago, Wallstedt is following that up with insane numbers this season. In 17 games with Lulea HF, Wallstedt posted a .923 save percentage and 1.82 goals-against average.
Considering his numbers over the past two years and his performance in the first two games, it’s no wonder pundits project the Swedish goaltender to be an elite prospect. Wallstedt is solidifying his place in the same tier as fellow top goaltending prospects Yaroslav Askarov and Spencer Knight.
His upside as an elite goalie prospect is why the Wild traded up two spots to get Wallstedt in this past year’s draft. There’s a good chance the Edmonton Oilers will regret this move in the future. So might the Detroit Red Wings, who selected goalie Sebastian Cossa five spots earlier.
The Wild lacked high-end goalie prospects since their inception. They don’t have a strong history with drafting netminders, either. The only three goalies the Wild have drafted and elevated to the NHL are Josh Harding, Darcy Kuemper, and Kaapo Kahkonen. Likewise, the organization hasn’t had an elite franchise goalie in its history. Nicklas Backstrom and Devan Dubnyk, two of the Wild’s longest-tenured goaltenders, were both overrated during their respective times. Both netminders were hardly analytical darlings.
When the opportunity arose, the Wild pounced on it and became the first team in NHL history to grab a Swedish goaltender in the first round. There’s no doubt that Bill Guerin and Judd Bracket came out of the draft as one of the biggest winners considering the value they got from Wallstedt at the 20th pick.
Some of Wallstedt’s closest comparables are Frederik Andersen, Jacob Markstrom and Thatcher Demko. When 10KRinks reached out to Byron Bader, the creator of HockeyProspecting and an NHL Draft consultant, he mentioned another goalie that comes to mind is Andrei Vasilevskiy.
“Markstrom is a really good comp. Similar SHL track,” Bader said. “Although Wallstedt was there even earlier, and I think he’ll make the NHL earlier than Markstrom did. Vasilevskiy also comes to mind. A couple of years on the Pro-Euro track and came right over to the NHL and thrived.”
Wallstedt’s development into an elite starter will be paramount for an organization that has often had problems between the pipes.
With the addition of Wallstedt, the Wild have one of the deepest and top prospect pipelines in the NHL. There’s so much talent already with Marco Rossi, Matt Boldy, Adam Beckman, and Calen Addison, among others, in the system.
In a few years down the road, the Wild will need Wallstedt to step in and make an impact. Cam Talbot has one more year remaining on his contract after this season, so his departure will leave a hole. Likewise, scouts doubt whether Kaapo Kahkonen can genuinely become an NHL starter. It appears as though he is destined to be a good backup in the league.
It’s also worth noting that Wallstedt is still a few years away from joining the Wild’s roster, so it’s essential to consider age-related regression on defense. While it’s likely Jared Spurgeon and Jonas Brodin will continue to be solid defenders for the Wild throughout their respective contracts, at some point, there will probably be some sort of age-related regression. It will be important that the Wild get strong goaltending, and Wallstedt is the potential ace in net who can deliver on that.
All Data Via Elite Prospects.